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Freedom of Expression is Under Threat in Kashmir

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Women walking past Indian security forces in Srinagar, summer capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Nimisha Jaiswal/IRIN

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, which is stated in the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Article 19(1)(a) of Indian constitution says that “all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of Speech and expression means the right to express one’s own convictions and opinions freely by words of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode”. But when, it comes to Indian illegally  occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir it labels India’s the  suppressor of  freedom of expression and opinion.   It seems that the freedom of speech in Kashmir no longer exists.

After the abrogation of autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir on  August 5, 2019 by the Modi gov’t, crackdown on independent journalists in Kashmir rapidly increased. Journalists who reported  critically against the government policies  have faced intimidation, harassment and  long investigations.  The internet access and freedom of free press or speech remained  restricted. The activities of local and foreign journalists had also restricted from the region without official approval, because of fear of  coverage which was focusing on the Kashmir conflict and government crackdowns on Kashmiris. The Indian government even continued to disrupt internet service during 2020. Limited mobile and fixed-line service was gradually restored, but high-speed mobile connectivity remained blocked. Police  continues its  crackdown on free speech. In June 2020, a new media policy was introduced which allows the officials to examine and censor content for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities.” Many journalists were questioned and charged over their work during the year. There were reports that journalists were being beaten by police and other security force  in connection with their work. Former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti,  said. “People’s thoughts are being monitored and they are punished for it. There is no outlet left to express one’s opinion and this is a deliberate attempt to push Kashmiris to the wall.”

According to local news paper “The Kashmir Walla” Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh, has taken action against its officials for their social media posts. The bank’s management noted that “some employees were seen violating the guidelines and  misusing Social Media Platforms, while the bank management issued  strict warning against the officials and employees, even they were threatened  of job loss.

 The Indian government and its security forces always  neglect  the  court orders that bound gov’t to refrain from taking action. In January 2020, the Indian Supreme Court ordered that, the  suspension of internet in Kashmir was unjustified and violated constitutional rights to free speech and expression, but authorities were slow to ease the shutdown, and mobile internet access remained restricted till the  year end.

In March 2021, Jammu and Kashmir administration has continued its policy of suppressing the fundamental right to speak and express. The administration  ordered new employees to submit their social media accounts for police scrutiny.  In March 2021 a report published by Freedom House, a US-based non-profit organization, categorized Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free”.

 On January 2022, the group of  pro-government journalists and police officers forcefully took over the Kashmir press club and stopped the journalist from entering the building. Later it was shutdown by the authorities. The shutdown of Kashmir press club was widely condemned. The Editors Guild of India said it was “aghast at the manner in which the office and the management of Kashmir Press Club was forcibly taken over” and accused the state of being “brazenly complicit in this coup”.  Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdulllah, also called it a “state-sponsored coup”. The regional administration declared the Kashmir  press club  deregistered as a society and the land  on which press club stands decide to take back. In January, 2022 Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said “Indian authorities appear determined to prevent journalists from doing their jobs”.

Media has always been tightly controlled in Kashmir Valley. In recent months  the harassment and detention of journalists in Kashmir has risen.  Government is using its power to compel people to follow the government line, if they do not do so then they are harassed and threatened by the government agencies or even sometime they are booked under the Public Safety Act, a law that allows authorities to arrest or detain people  who act against the security of the state. Sajad Gul, a Kashmiri journalist  who reported on alleged “fake encounters” by Indian security forces, was detained under the Public Safety Act. Anuradha Bhasin, an editor at Kashmir Times, said “Authorities have created a systematic fear and launched a direct assault on free media. There is complete intolerance of even a single critical word”.

Freedom of expression is considered the  fundamental and most essential right of individuals in a  democratic, secular and liberal societies, but if we look in Indian occupied J&K under the Modi led Hindutwa rule, its is far away from this fundamental right. The gov’t only focus is, to suppress any voice that put finger against the Modi policies towards Kashmir and its people. The world should take notice of this draconian policies of Modi gov’t in Kashmir which is suppressing people’s from their right to freedom of opinion and expression. Its not only the violation of Article 19, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but its also the violation of Article 19(1)(a) of Indian Constitution which says  “all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression. International organizations and community must take notice of Indian suppression of freedom of expression in the Kashmir Valley and should compel India to must respect the people’s fundament right of  freedom of expression and opinion.

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“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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